FAA to pull Victoria's air traffic control funding April 21

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

March 25, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.
Updated March 25, 2013 at 10:26 p.m.

Federal funding for Victoria's Air Traffic Control Tower will end April 21.

Victoria Regional Airport Manager Jason Milewski said he was notified of the official date through an email.

While County Judge Don Pozzi has said he does not expect any lapse in the tower's operations, some of the 148 other airports affected by the sequestration cuts are calling it a "closure."

The tower spending cuts are part of $637 million the FAA must shed by Sept. 30, brought on by the $85 billion cuts to federal spending across the government.

Pozzi said the county will continue receiving bids for tower management through 10 a.m. Monday. It is estimated the tower costs $500,000 annually to operate.

A representative of Congressman Blake Farenthold shared a letter with the Commissioners Court on Monday addressed to Michael Huerta, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

"A closure of the air traffic control tower at Victoria Regional Airport will have a negative economic impact on the city of Victoria ... and the surrounding region," Farenthold wrote.

The letter also pointed out that the contract tower program remained open in 2009 when the FAA received less funding than it will under the sequestration.

Milewski said, "The concerns are definitely that this will only be funded - if it is funded locally - until a more permanent solution is found. If they (commissioners) choose to do this, it's not going to be indefinitely."

He said the airport's daily flight averages are between 250 and 300, up 14 percent since last year. However, weekends are slower.

Furthermore, he said fuel sales are up from last year.

From January to February, the airport saw $365,344 in fuel sales.

During that same time period in 2012, the airport received $318,365 fuel purchases.

Also, budgeted fuel sales are up. This year, the airport is projecting $2.8 million in fuel sales. Last year, it budgeted $2.1 million and sold $2.4 million, Milewski said.

"We grow every year, and we've been growing every year," Milewski said. He said sales will drop if the tower closes.

While some communities are opting to let their towers close, Milewski said Victoria cannot afford that economic hit.

To help lessen the cost, the tower may reduce hours or days of operations, Milewski said.

"As with anything, if the need is there and the justification is there and it's that vital to the community, you find a way to get it done and not let Washington politics dictate our local economic growth," he said.

Although temporarily funding the tower "could be a delay of the inevitable," he said they hope area, state and federal governments can come up with a permanent solution.

If nothing is worked out and all 149 towers close, Milewski said an accident is bound to happen.

The runway at Victoria Regional Airport is two miles long. The tactic of "see and avoid" is nearly impossible on a runway as large as Victoria's, he said.

"Because of the runway being so long, when you're way back and approaching the runway to land, and following the instrument landing system in, you physically can't see any other aircraft operating at the other end of the runway," Milewski said. "Try to find a car two miles away."



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